Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Minutes of the Feb. 4 Legislative Committee Meeting

Minutes EGRTPS PTA Legislative Committee
Present: Dr. Shubel, Kevin Phillips, Steve Edison, Elizabeth Lykins, Tina Murua, Lucy Lafleur, Amy Turner Thole, Amy Marlow

Superintendent’s Report
Dr. Shubel reported on a question raised by Legislative Committee member, Anne Grobel.  Will cutting Young 5’s program make a significant budgetary contribution for the next fiscal year?
To begin, this school year, Young fives is being offered in two sections in the same classroom, in the same building by two teachers.  Both sections use the same materials and space.  One teacher is a veteran staff and one is a newer staff, offsetting the salary expense.  As of this fiscal year, Young fives works well within the budget.  Looking at next year, the first in which the starting date will be moved to November 1, still looks feasible.  The program is currently cost neutral and looks to be the same next year.  This means that eliminating it will not be a great cost savings to the district and academically, it looks as though it will still be needed and offered next year.
Kevin Phillips reported on the Revenue conference that took place in January.  It looks as though the foundation allowance per student will remain at the same level.  While there is a relief at no cuts, as expenses go up each year, it is essentially a cut.  Also, incentive money may go away and this year EGRPS is receiving approximately $50 per student in incentive money.  The threshold that must be met by districts to receive incentive money continues to rise, looking like the plan is to offer incentive money to as few districts as possible.  EGRPS has met 7 of 8 incentives for the 2012/2013 school year, according to Steve Edison.
Also, it looks as though the governor is targeting the “At Risk” monies in the K-12 budget to pay for early childhood education.  The legislative committee is concerned because urban and rural districts will be hardest hit by this cut in funding.  EGRPS uses most of its “At Risk” monies for reading support at the elementary level.  The legislative committee continues to support full funding of early childhood education, but not at the expense of K-12 funding.  Additional revenue must be found to fund these necessary programs.
House Rep. Lisa Lyons has retained her House Education Committee Chairmanship.  We know that Representatives Tom Hooker and Winnie Brinks are also on the Committee, which is good news for public education.
Summary of the Center for Michigan Report on Education
CFM held Education Town Hall meetings all over the state asking Michigan residents their opinions about public education in Michigan.  They also did random telephone interviews with Michigan residents, asking them the same questions.  While the education town hall participants were self selected and the telephone interviewees were randomly selected, they gave similar responses.
Overall, both groups want improved school.  Each group felt Michigan has a ways to go to improve schools but most participants and telephone interviewees felt their own schools were doing well.
Both groups want increased funding for Early Childhood Education.
Both groups want more support for and fair evaluation of teachers.
Both groups want to invest in community schools, even paying higher taxes to solve the problems.
Neither group felt that more choice or more online learning was at the top of the list for how to achieve results.
Governor Snyder’s State of the State Address:
Governor Snyder placed the EAA—Education Achievement Authority on his priority list.  This is the brand new state wide district that has the mandate to overtake the bottom 3% of schools.  This means that over the years, the take-over will continue up the ladder and the state will run more and more schools.  Many are concerned about local control.  This raises alarms for any public school advocate.
The governor raised three areas for increased funding: Children’s dental care, Early childhood education (Great Start) and early impact mental health services.
He promises that the Education Summit in April will focus on school safety and early detection of mental illness.
Elizabeth Lykins reported on her presentation with Rockford parent, Christie Ramsey, to Friends of Kent County Schools in January.  There was a turnout of over 220 people who were from all over West Michigan.  Eight presentations are being scheduled over the next few weeks to try to increase the number of parent groups similar to our Legislative Committee.
Elizabeth continued with an action plan for our district.  We will need to get parents motivated to action over the next few months.  We need to not fatigue.  We need to streamline communication to parents through the school buildings.  Dr. Shubel and Tina Murua both spoke to the fact that the PTA Council is reviewing communication in today’s meeting to ensure that communication is streamlined for parents.
Currently, we will continue to engage parents through newsletters and PTA meetings.  We will put the main points on the blog and refer to it in the newsletters.

Current Concerns of the legislative Committee
We will need parents to review the action below and decide which issues move them to action, but at the same time, impress upon parents how the bills work in concert and are therefore of concern to us all.  The bills below do not support our schools or our community.  They are all burdens on communities.  We need to ask for more support of our communities and less support of corporate interests in education.
1.     EAA—Education Achievement Authority   This is the brand new state wide district that has the mandate to overtake the bottom 3% of schools.  This means that over the years, the take-over will continue up the ladder and the state will run more and more schools.  Many education advocates are concerned about local control.  There is concern that the EAA would not have to test their students which raises alarms of whether the students would be receiving adequate education.
2.     Mega Schools of Choice bill   This bill revisits all of the charter expansion, cyber school expansion and expanding the entities that can start schools, including corporations starting schools for their employees, etc.  Education advocates are concerned about this because Michigan already has some of the highest choice offerings in the nation with little or no research showing that the amount of choice offered is benefitting Michigan.  We continue to advocate stopping this legislation.  Too much.  Too fast.  No research.  These new schools also do not have to address special education students.
3.     Unbundling funding for education  We are most concerned about this strategy for funding schools.  While we still would get the foundation grant per pupil, if the pupil takes a class outside the district, the district would be held responsible for keeping track of and giving the other entity a portion of the foundation grant.  This would allow mobile students to leave the district and take money with them while leaving more expensive special education students behind.